The COVID-19 Infodemic

Infodemics Accelerate Cyberattacks

Since the COVID19 outbreak, the world has witnessed a drastic uptick in the spread of false information as cyber criminals exploit the chaotic nature of the virus as a means to deploy cyber attacks against vulnerable individuals and sectors of the global community. Consequently, this produces a situation where the spread of false information manipulates human nature to deceive individuals, leaving them susceptible to devastating attacks that risk producing physical and financial harm. Ultimately, it has the effect of undermining human security, dignity and equity in cyberspace. The situation is further exacerbated due to the lack of accountability that operates as a carte blanche for cyber criminals to continue with illicit operations against vulnerable persons.

 

What We Need to Know about Infodemics?

What is an Infodemic?

“Infodemic”, as coined by World Health Organization in 2020, is an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance. 

Is it a New Phenomenon?

The infodemic is not a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather a recurring epidemic that has been witnessed on previous occasions. Most notably, during the Ebola crisis in 2014 and 2018, as well as the Zika virus in 2015.

Why Is It Dangerous?

The infodemic has become a means to facilitate the exploitation of weaknesses in digital networks and launch cyber attacks against vulnerable communities and critical services.

The Human Impact of the Infodemic

Oftentimes, misinformation and disinformation are used interchangeably. However, misinformation refers to information that is unintentionally wrong, whereas disinformation refers to false information that was intentionally created for the purpose of deceiving others. Individuals remain a prime target of cyberattacks as the infodemic thrives on individual deception as well as the vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure, which lays the foundation for cyber criminals to launch attacks.

The Threat

A typology of cyber attacks reveals the same tactics generally used by cyber criminals, yet with a coronavirus theme in order to lure victims to access malicious websites or open contaminated files. The use of malware includes “remote access Trojans, info stealers, spyware and banking Trojans to compromise networks, harvest data, divert money and build botnets”.

The Victim

Among the victims of the infodemic related cyberattacks is the healthcare sector, which is already under the pressure of having to manage the surge in coronavirus patients. The sector is an attractive target due to the sensitive patient information they store, which equates to a sizeable profit for cyber criminals, and the critical need to provide continues medical care. 

The Law

In the current landscape, actors are not held to account for their illicit behaviour in cyberspace, producing a vast accountability gap that must be filled. There are swathes of false information circulating on social media platforms and throughout the digital network without sufficient means to control it. Cybercriminals thrive on this accountability gap which must be stopped in order to stymie the number of cyberattacks against vulnerable individuals and critical services.

 

Beyond facilitating cyberattacks, the infodemic represents a unique menace to all concepts of peace, not only in cyberspace but also in the public sphere.”
Stéphane Duguin, CEO, CyberPeace Institute

Closing the Accountability Gap

The discussion of cyber threats in the context of the infodemic and its devastating impacts on society is an avid reminder that this issue cannot be relegated to the side lines of international debate. Limiting the spread of disinformation and ensuring a secure cyber infrastructure must be a primary item on state agendas.

Multistakeholder engagement: Stifling the dissemination of mis- and disinformation will require the operationalisation of agreed norms and multistakeholder engagement. This is indispensable to address all of the facets of mis- and disinformation, much of which is circulated through social media and other unorthodox modes of communication in the digital network.

Human-centric approach: The most effective way to stem the growth of the infodemic is by taking a human-centric approach that seeks to engage victims of cyber attacks as well as countries from around the world to ensure an inclusiveness and global representation. There must be an effort to streamline information and ensure sufficient fact-checking bodies are in place to combat the spread of disinformation in cyberspace.

Private-public collaboration: Public and private actors must be cognizant of this existing threat and introduce procedures and mechanisms that strive to ensure human security in cyberspace and hold malicious cyber actors to account.

 

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